Welcome St. Stephen at Christmas

A sermon by Rev. Ronald  F. Marshall, proclaimed to his flock at First Lutheran Church of West Seattle, December 26, 2010.

"And he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:56).

Today is the Feast of St. Stephen, the first martyr of the Church – who died because he spoke out for Christ (Acts 7:51-53). But “what a difference a day makes” – as Dinah Washington sang on her Grammy award winning record back in 1959! For this transition from Christmas day to today – the second day in the twelve days of Christmas – is anything but smooth! For we have gone from singing, “Repeat the sounding joy,” to killing (Acts 7:57-58). So what’s up? Why this “most glaring contrast” between these two days of Christmas [Kaj Munk, Four Sermons (1944) p. 20]?

 

Delaying Peace

Now it is precisely because we heard yesterday those heavenly, angelic words, “Peace on earth!” (Luke 2:8), that we wonder why, all of a sudden, St. Stephen is being stoned to death by an angry mob. Have we missed something? The Christmas decorations are still up – but to no avail, for this wretched brutality still befalls us!

Well, in fact, the sad truth is that we have missed something. And what we’ve failed to consider sufficiently is that our Lord didn’t come to bring peace on earth right away (Luke 12:51)! For on earth, for now, we must instead endure tribulation (John 16:33; Acts 14:22). But that doesn’t mean that we won’t have a peace of mind which the world cannot give (John 14:27). All it means is that we’ll be the “off-scourging” of the world because we follow Christ (1 Corinthians 4:13). So having a peace of mind rooted in knowing to whom we belong, and the blessedness that awaits us when we die (Philippians 4:4-7) – that will not and cannot keep us from running the risk of being tortured, mocked, imprisoned, wandering over deserts and mountains, living in dens and caves, and even being “sawn in two” or stoned to death (Hebrews 11:35-38).

 

Slogging in the Bog

Now that being said, how in the world can we live with the threats in these tribulations? How can we, as Martin Luther said – who is our most eminent teacher [The Book of Concord (1580), ed. T. Tappert (1959) p. 576] – how can we put up with this “vexation of life,” a life which is so “horribly wretched, difficult, and troubled” (Luther’s Works 8:114)? In his Large Catechism (1529) he even goes on to say that when we do follow Christ, we will never “have peace” – even though God “faithfully provides for our daily existence” (BC pp. 429, 431). And if we eke out some worldly peace anyway, that can only be because we – as Luther’s relentless logic again has it – have abandoned Christ [LW 13:415; 51:112; 52:117-119; Luther’s House Postils, 3 vol. ed. E. Klug (1996) 1:163] – by avoiding the “hard knots” intrinsic to Christianity (LW 21:62; 23:402), like self-denial, eternal damnation and the uniqueness of Christ. So Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) – who thought preachers could do no better than read aloud Luther’s sermons every Sunday in church rather than writing their own [Journals & Papers, 7 vols, trans. Howard V. Hong & Edna H. Hong, 3:3496] – he felt that we were left, because of this tribulation, to “slog along as if in a bog” (JP 3:6503), finding our help from God, as Luther said, “in the midst of opposites” (LW 4:232). Lord have mercy!

Because of this trouble, Luther believed that “there is no life… on earth more wretched than that of a Christian” (LW 28:106) – and the stoning of St. Stephen underscores that most emphatically. And Kierkegaard, for one, took Luther’s insight to heart. For he argued that it would be a bad “slogan” for the Christian life, to think that if you are loving and kind, then “it will go well with you in this world” (JP 3:3527; Hebrews 10:34)! So by including St. Stephen’s stoning at the start of the season of Christmas, the point is made that the birth of Christ means “that the natural man should die,” and that, to die in this way means, “to be born” (JP 1:568).

 

Abounding in Adversity

To be able to rejoice in this redefined birth of the Savior, we will have to follow the wisdom of God. But if we do, as Kierkegaard warned, we will run the risk of “fanaticism” (JP 3:2379). Even so, Luther is fearless and says that the Biblical message holds that the Christian “knows how to rejoice in sadness and to mourn in happiness” (LW 25:347; Psalm 90:15). For the true Christian is “uplifted in adversity, because he trusts in God” and is “downcast in prosperity, because he fears God” (LW 27:403)! Kierkegaard called this strange flip-flop an “inverted dialectic” (JP 4:4680).

But it is just this inverted dialectic that gives us the calm to face any situation in life and to learn to be “content,” as was the Apostle Paul when he suffered adversity (Philippians 4:10). So the secret to enduring tribulation is in this very inversion or flip-flop – whereby adversity becomes a blessing, or as Luther said, we learn by it to be uplifted in adversity – following Romans 5:3. By so doing, Kierkegaard notes, Luther doesn’t put us to sleep spiritually but instead preaches us “farther out” (JP 3:2462) – out on a limb, if you will – beyond a mere “human cause,” whereby we are busy about only “finite matters” (JP 3:2570). Moving out into a realm where, if one were stoned to death for the truth, it wouldn’t be the end of what matters most, but it’s beginning. For when the world shuts its doors on us, “heaven opens up” (JP 4:4508). That’s why we are to rejoice in our adversity and not collapse under it – being only “struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Corinthians 4:12).

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed…. For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory,… [for] we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

This is what St. Stephen knew! No wonder, then, that when the thief on the cross cried out to Jesus, “Are you not the Christ? [Then] save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39), it fell on deaf, albeit divine, ears. And that was because “in Christianity everything is aimed at eternity – therefore a lifetime of suffering, therefore no help in this life, no victory in this life” (JP 3:3098). Or as Jesus said: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul” (Matthew 10:28)! So Kierkegaard writes that if this earthly tribulation and anguish is lost, then we might as well “lock the churches and convert them into dance halls,” because that higher divine cause of spiritual renewal and salvation will have been lost, for it is what prepares us for that eternal weight of glory (JP 3:2461). To guard against this, Kierkegaard says that the human skull is the most fitting object for “prolonged mediation” on the meaning of Christian living, because it symbolizes “that to love God is: to die, to die to the world, the most agonizing of all agonies” (JP 3:2455).

 

Seeing Jesus

Therefore we will surely need help if we are ever going to turn our anxieties and tribulations into blessings, like St. Stephen did. Somehow we’ll need to know that God is “swift to help,” even if everything is to be rendered futile, is to be blown away like a fantasy, even if nothing, nothing whatever, is to be achieved and the suffering is the one and only actuality, even if the unremitting sacrifice of a long life is to become meaningless like shadowboxing in the air… (Kierkegaard’s Writings 5:334).

We cannot come by such knowledge intellectually. But we are told in no uncertain terms that God has “delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13), that we might go “through life to life” (KW 15:217)! And these words are good-as-gold, for in them we hear, Kierkegaard would say, the very “voice of God” (KW 21:39), and not some human interpretation (1 Thessalonians 2:13) of an old, disputed text. All of this happens through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus whereby he cancels what’s against us (Colossians 1:14).

This sterling sacrifice, Kierkegaard notes, reveals that “Christianity is the divine combat of divine passion with itself” (JP 1:532). For the very blood shed in the sacrifice of the Son of God, saves us from the wrath of God (Romans 5:9)! In that salvation we are shocked by the internal combat of God “recoiling” within (Hosea 11:8). But in this sacrifice is life. And so when St. Stephen is stoned to death, he sees the heavens open, with Christ standing – not sitting as usual – to welcome him (Acts 7:56) because “dangers threaten” (JP 1:300). In death, then, Christ “strangles” death for us, so that our death – strangely – is in him and not in us (LW 42:105)! Therefore our reward comes after we die (Luke 14:14). So we are to struggle to remain faithful unto death, that we might then receive “the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10), since Jesus refuses to magically turn “mortal life into worldly delight” (KW 15:233). And to remain faithful to this promise, receive the Lord’s Supper today, for it’s “new strength and refreshment” (BC p. 449).

 

Being Angelic

And then, in thanksgiving for our salvation (Colossians 2:7), may we also “walk as children of light,” holding on to what’s “good and right and true” (Ephesians 5:8-9)! So be angelic under attack, as St. Stephen was (Acts 6:15). Don’t seek suffering (LW 30:110), but don’t flee from it either (LW 35:56). And pray for your enemies, after you rebuke them, as St. Stephen did, and so show that love is “like a nut with a hard shell and a sweet kernel” [Sermons of Martin Luther, 8 vols (1988), ed. J. N. Lenker, 6:208]. Amen.

Second Sunday in Advent, 1918

An Advent Sermon from Werner Elert translated Adam Koontz

 Luke 21:25-26

            “There shall be signs in the sun, moon, and stars.”—says the Lord. So far it hasn’t happened yet. Certainly at times a new show takes place in the night sky. There a comet ascends and after a time disappears again. A few months ago a new star in the sky was discovered, but after a few days, it became small again. Or an unusually long drought or long wet period prevails. Or once a great storm on the sea—“the sea and the waves will roar”—yes, all this occurs also in our times. But it has often been so before. Comets have often stood in the sky. And all manner of horrors at sea have disturbed men. In all these and the like, our time does not distinguish itself from other times.

Certainly one thing does apply to our day in a special way: “On Earth people will be afraid, and they shall say”… “And men will die off for fear and for awaiting the things that shall come on the Earth.” There is a monstrous restlessness among our people and seemingly also among all other peoples. One lives in the anticipation of great things. One hopes and fears. One waits.

“But when this begins to happen, look up and lift up your heads, for your salvation draws near.” When what begins? The sky’s activities? They have not changed, so long as the thoughts of men stretch into the past. Therefore we come to the other option: when the angst and restlessness of men and the restless anticipating becomes ever greater—then lift up your eyes. Lift your heads, for your salvation draws near.

And so the appeal is addressed also to us today. Lift up your heads, for your salvation draws near. From this and the following words of the Lord comes an essentially different picture of the imminent end-times from that which most Christians among us maintain. Usually the matter is put forth as if horrible things are the most certain mark of the future coming of Christ, as though one must await a dreadful upheaval in all earthly conditions, indeed in all the conditions of the stars, the heavenly bodies among them, and finally, as though the best preparation were to hide oneself warily at one’s own hearth. Though all these things and opinions have a certain truth to them—this speech of the Lord shows that the matter also has another aspect. From this announcement comes much that is in contrast to this widespread opinion:

  1. The signs of the future coming of Christ shall be not only terrible but also full of hope.
  2. One should fix his eyes not on the ephemeral, but on the everlasting.
  3. One should be not worried, but watchful and worthy.

I.

            One should certainly not overlook that in the proclamations of Jesus the description of events in the sky is by no means the only thing. It says, “He told them a parable, ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees—as soon as they leaf out, you look for yourselves and know the summer is near. So also, when you see all this going on, know that the kingdom of God is near.’” Had the Lord thought only of downfall and destruction at his future coming, he would have likened the time of preparation not to the spring but to the autumn. That he likened it to the spring, bright budding and the greening of the trees, so we may definitely expect that the end of time will also mean a bright budding and greening in his kingdom.

Is such budding and blooming something to be perceived in the present? Before the war, we received the reports of our missionaries every year. Who among us read them? Who was at all interested in them?—Yes, there was something of blooming in the kingdom of God to notice, when the heathens pressed in to hear the Gospel. How happy we would be today, if that happened again! But if also in this time some consoling news arrives, in general a monstrous reversal has come. It is autumn there instead of spring, and the young congregations of Christians there are far more like not to a greening fig tree, but to a fading one. The leaves for the most part are fallen. So here the Lord’s condition is not fulfilled.

And in Christianity here at home?—Some believed strongly during the rush to arms in the first months of the war that a rush to arms brought with it the chance to behold a greening fig tree in the area of prayer meetings for the war, of prayer, and of a penitent attitude. Granting there may have been something true in that—today we are in any case farther from a conversion of the entire people than ever. Here also no blooming, but a falling of barren leaves—for that reason we will not hold the horrible things of the present for more important than they actually are. Therefore they are not decisive, says the fact that the trees still are not green.

II.

Not the ephemeral, but the everlasting.

            When many Christians busy themselves much more readily with the outward signs of the coming of Jesus than with the inward signs, it is presumably because above all the ephemeral is more important to them than the everlasting. You remember that the last Sundays of the church year preach the everlasting in ever-new phrases. And out of the prayers of those weeks rings out the tone: “Prepare our minds for the end.” But do not think, fellow-Christians, that that is a special cemetery-mood or autumn-mood that is again finished once happy Advent promises hopes and joys again. The season of Advent also in its way directs its vision to the everlasting.

Proof v. 33, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” That is: away with all thoughts of the temporal, but also with all thoughts and musings on the downfall of the world, etc. It all passes away—what does it matter to you? Think still more on that which will be saved, yes, what then will still be, and then always will rule all life. Those are his words.

The Lord’s words—they are not dead and gone like other people’s words. Some among us can only speak smartly; they give first-rate advice in all political and business affairs. But do not think, fellow-Christians, that such has eternal worth…. That Christ’s words have eternal worth, that is because he himself is an eternal being.

And let us apply these predictions of the Lord to some of his words. “Come unto me…” “The Son of Man—that he should give his life as a ransom for many.” “I am the Good Shepherd—I give them eternal life, and they shall nevermore perish.” These words have validity also in the eternal world, and to that let us turn our attention.

III.

Not anxious, but watchful and worthy.

            From this follows—and that is for us the most important thing—how we should conduct ourselves in these hard times (which should however, as the season of Advent, lose all that is comfortless). First: not anxious. If we were to be anxious, fearful, then certainly it would be never be set there: “Lift up your heads.” So not a sunken head, but an uplifted one. Not fearful, but inwardly free and full of trust in a very strong Helper.

But beside that: watchful, v. 34-36. The day comes like a trap. Not as if someone has an interest in bringing us to a fall. The Lord, who brings it, wants rather the opposite. But he wants to preclude all hypocrisy. Were the preparation of the fulfillment such that no man could anymore doubt it, then the temptation would lie near that many would repent at last out of so-called smartness. What do you think, fellow-Christian? Oh, how many good Christians lean upon the possibility to still repent before the gate is closed and to still be able to come home. It doesn’t work that way with the Lord. The end comes unexpectedly like a trap.

So watchful. And further “worthy.” Oh, of worth among us we cannot speak, still less of worthiness. Namely then, not when this is connected to it: “Worthy to stand before the Son of Man.” Therefore there is only one way out. That is the begging outstretch of the hand to him: Lord, take me as I am. Forgive me my sins, and save me. I cannot. That strikes some among us not as worthy but as unworthy. That we still thereafter must humble ourselves is because the human measure of worthiness is generally invested in hypocrisy. Not with the Lord. And above this: it is not about humility before men but about humility before God. …

Amen.

A Call Service Sermon by Rev. Juhana Pohjola

Call service, 28.5.2011 Christ Lutheran church, St Catharines, Ontario Rev. Juhana Pohjola

John 16:23-30

Leaving a legacy! Yes, Christ has gathered his disciples into the upper room. It is farewell time. I’m leaving the world and going to the Father. This is the final session together. They have travelled a long time together. Now the hour has come. It is time for Jesus to leave his legacy to his disciples and then walk alone the path from Gethsemane.

And what is the legacy that Christi is leaving to his disciples and to his church? He is leaving them, he is leaving you three promises.

The first one is his name. Truly I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. What was the greatest gift that Moses received and through him the people of Israe? Was it the law, the 10 commandments, the collection of rules that we can read about it the second Book of Moses? No. What was it, then? If I come to the people of Israel and say to them: The God of your Fathers has sent me to you’ and they ask me, What is his name? What shall I say to them? Yes, Moses received the name of God. The name which guaranteed access to God, not only access but a gracious access! The holy name of God was the great gift for his people. They were taken under his name. The holy name dwelled among them in the tabernacle. And that is why the second commandment deals with the Holy Name: we should not profane it.

What is the greatest gift that Christ is giving to the pillars of the New Testament people, not to the twelve tribes but to the twelve apostles? His name. And he adds a promise to his name: whatever you ask in my name, he will give it to you. Does this not sound like a golden heavenly credit card given at your disposal?! Like something too good to be true. But Christ really means what he is saying. This is not any cheap pre-election promise. No he stands behind this promise also today.

What would you then ask in his name? Think big here. Not only good health, a bigger house, a permanent job and all the good things we ask for in the petition for daily bread! What was the biggest thing Moses could come up with? Do you remember what he asked God! Show me your Glory! Moses asked to see God! To have unhindered, open access to God’s holy presence! To see God, that is beyond our comprehension, but it is what heaven is all about! Moses got the answer: You cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live!

From this perspective it is amazing to hear what Jesus says to Philip in the upper room: Whoever has seen me, has seen the Father! Whoever has Jesus, has unlimited access to God’s gracious presence, And whoever has Jesus name has Jesus himself. And whoever has Jesus has the Holy Spirit who makes the name known to us through the word. When Christ gives his name to the disciples, it is not a sign that he is abandoning them, that his name is to remind them that he once was with then. No! The given name is a reality that guarantees to the disciples that he is with them to the end of the age!

His promise was not only for the apostles but also for you. You have received his name. You were taken under his name’s protection when the pastor took water and said: I baptize you in the name... What a joy, what a privilege it is for you say boldly today to God : I have the holy name: You are my Father, I’m your child! I belong to you! And what does this mean for a called and soon to be ordained servant of Christ? It means: I’m not dependent on my name, my strength, my wisdom but it is for me to bring his holy name, God gracious presence to those who by nature have no access to God’s holy presence. In his name forgive sins, in his name baptize, in his name consecrate the life giving bread and wine, in his name pray for God people!

This is his legacy! What about the two other promises? What more can you still ask if you have received God himself in his name! Jesus says that two things necessarily come out it.

The second part of the legacy is the cross. In the world you will have tribulation. Jesus does not say you might have some hard times, it is possible that you might face persecution. No. It is a given fact. And this means not only the hardship of life. This is tribulation because of his name. We must take our cross. Why? Because the world does not recognize Christ’s name. The world opposes and your flesh fights against his name. Are you prepared for tribulations as a Christian? Or do these words of Jesus apply to you: You will be scattered and will leave me alone? What is the point when you are done with Jesus? I’m not asking what is the point when you stop paying tax-deductable donations for the church? I’m asking you when it gets too costly for you to confess his name in word and deed? When do you keep quiet although you know you should speak up? When do you step on the sunny side of the majority, when you know you should defend the biblical truth and be in a minority? Don’t think that pastors are free from this temptation. How often we are more interested in our good name than Christ’s name. How often we are more concerned that people like us than that they hear what God has to say to them in his word. How often it is more important for us to be successful in the eyes of men than to be faithful in the eyes of God. Tribulations. This is a part of Christ’s legacy that we do not need to go looking for, but at the same time we cannot escape and avoid them in this world.

But did you hear what goes together with tribulations? I have said these things that in me you may have peace! This is the third promise. Peace in him. Dr Luther tells about a man in Wittenberg who fell down from the roof. Miraculously he did not hurt himself. When he was back on his feet, he said: Now I know that God loves me! Yes this is the natural wisdom of you and me. When life goes smoothly, when business is running well, the kids are getting good grades at school, the grandparents are in good health, your favourite team is winning, and even your neighbour’s dog is not barking at you! Then you have peace, then you can say: Yes, after all somebody up there seems to like me! It is good to be grateful to God for his protection and for all the gifts that he gives us. But this is not the peace Christ is talking about. This is the peace that the world can give. The peace of this world consists in happy days, healthy days, peaceful days. No sorrows, no distress, no pain, no cross. This is peace according to our understanding, but his peace passes all our understanding. His peace you can see at the deathbed of a Christian, who is scared by his ruined body but at the same time also comforted by the everlasting word. It is the peace that you see when you meet a Christian who has lost his job and the future looks gloomy, but you can hear the silent words of hope: But I still have you, dear Jesus! The peace Christ gives is not only a happy face and calm heart, but also assurance of his love and of his gracious presence in the midst of tears and a broken heart. It is the peace that can say: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me! His legacy is not peace before or after the tribulations but peace in the midst of the tribulations. And that is why you can say even with a broken leg and arm, I know that God loves me because he has given me his saving name. His saving name, his sacramental presence in his name is our peace also in tribulations!

His name, his cross, his peace. This is the legacy. But only during our earthly journey. At the moment his name, his presence is hidden under lowly earthly forms, his cross feels sometimes heavy to carry and the peace of our heart is often challenged. But our true inheritance is waiting us in glory. My question to you as a Christians, as students prepared for vicarage and as a called servant to be ordained to the office of the Holy Ministry: Is Christ’s legacy enough for you or is it too much or too little?

Maybe it is common here also but I know that it is common in Finland to say, that to all other places the devil sends his assistants but when the election of a pastor or the reading of the will of the deceased takes place, then the devil himself comes in person. When the question is about Christ’s legacy, then then the devil will be there. Christ’s testament, his will, his word is challenged again and again in this world, in your life, in your journey, in your ministry.

That is I want leave you with the words that I saw when I was walking along Church Street in St Catharines and passed City Hall. There I found these Latin words written. They were new to me but are familiar to you: A Mari usque ad Mare (From Sea to Sea). As Psalm 72:8 says: May he have dominion from sea to sea. Do you hear? Not the devil, not tribulations, not even yourself but He, Christ, has dominion in your life from the waters of your baptism through all the storms of your life till the end, when there is a new heaven and new earth and the sea is no more. From sea to sea under his name. Not only across Canada. But all the way home. This is your legacy in Christ, he is your true inheritance!

The Commemoration of St. Patrick, by Kurt Reinhardt

The Commemoration of St. Patrick

Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church Kurtzville, Ontario Rev. Kurt E. Reinhardt

Isa 52:7-10; 1 The 2:2-12; St Matthew 28:16-20

Patrick, it’s his day today, the day the Church remembers a saint who by God’s rich grace brought Jesus to the Irish. Patrick, a servant of Christ, captured at 16 that he might one day set his captors free; enslaved in a foreign land that he might one day lead his slave-masters home; a herdsman to pigs that he might one day shepherd the sheep of Christ.

The luck of the Irish has little to do with the fact that Patrick’s day happens to be the same day that we his fellow servants have gathered here. Although I can claim to be 1/8 Irish, my ¾-plus German content, I am sure, overrules it. Fortunate? Providential? Fortuitous? Whatever it may be, it is noteworthy. As we gather to ponder the work of the Church with her young people, how helpful to have such an example to reflect on, to learn from, to imitate.

This stalwart missionary heading back into not only a foreign culture but an enemy culture to teach them about Christ has something to say to all of us as we consider work with youth. They too at times can seem like a foreign culture to many of us, even though we too were once a part of it, and perhaps in a rather delusional kind of way think it was not so long ago that we left it behind.

Six years of slavery amongst the Irish without a doubt prepared Patrick for true service to the people of the fair green isle. He learned their language. He learned their thoughts. He learned their ways. Our recollections of our own journey through our difficult teen years, as well as careful observation and study of today’s youth, in a similar way can help us to serve the young sheep of Christ.

Yet while Patrick’s knowledge of the Irish was a help to him, it was not what brought him back to his captors’ land or gave power to his work amongst them. What drove Patrick back to Ireland and empowered him to drive the Great Serpent from her shores was not a love and knowledge of their smiling Irish eyes, since they smiled little on him in his time there.

What drove Patrick back to Ireland, what empowered him for the great work he accomplished there, was the authoritative sending word that our Lord Jesus Christ spoke to the Eleven… "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

Patrick was drawn into that great sending out that began in the heart of the Father, took on flesh in the incarnation of the Son, flowed out in the giving of the Spirit, and flooded the world in the life of the Church. As Patrick returned to the land of his captivity he was part of that great sending out that the nations might be caught up and returned to the Lord. He was drawn into God’s glorious work of drawing back and binding up again what sin had broken and torn apart.

As Patrick went to the nation of the Irish he went as a part of that sending ministry, that apostolic ministry whose work is to bind the children of man back to God and to one another through the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The sending ministry, the gathering ministry, is always centered and focused on the Sent One, the Gathering One; it is always about Jesus.

And so that ministry is always a baptismal ministry, where Jesus is given and shared so that through Him poor sinners may be brought back into life with the Triune God. The baptismal ministry then unfolds in the life of the disciple in nurturing, nourishing, building up the disciple in the communal life of Christ through His life-renewing forgiveness, His life-creating Word, and His life-imparting flesh and blood.

Although Patrick’s day has been hijacked to be a celebration of those he was sent to return to the Lord, the Irish, what this day is actually about is the ministry accomplished by God through this poor miserable sinner, who wasn’t even Irish himself. In a similar way the Lord wants to keep us mindful that our work amongst the youth is about God’s ministry to them. As Patrick’s day has come to be about all things Irish, so too our work amongst the youth can be in danger of becoming about all things youthful instead of all things Jesus.

In our rapidly changing world, in an increasingly hostile culture, we have a great task, what sometimes can seem an insurmountable task, to serve the young people of today, and to help them to remain faithful to Christ. The temptation is ever there to look to other things, to other means—other than those that Christ has given to us—to try and keep what so often seems like such a feeble grip on our young people. Yet if the ministry of the Church is to be the ministry of Christ, it must do the things that Christ has given it to do.

Undoubtedly as Patrick looked to those shores where he had been cruelly enslaved and mistreated, I am sure he had misgivings about the task that the Lord had given to him. Yet what propelled him forward, and what is here to propel us forward, is the beautiful bookends that our Lord gives to His sending mandate. All authority in heaven on earth has been given to me… and behold I am with you always, to the end of the age. The sending ministry is not only all about Jesus but it is carried out with Jesus; it is carried out in and through Jesus.

The all-authoritative Christ is always with us, brothers, to do His work for His people. He has promised to be with us always until the end, until the work is finished. In confirmation of this truth He stands before us today in His flesh and blood, the flesh and blood in which He suffered and died to save us, the flesh and blood in which He rose from the grave that we might have life in His name, the flesh and blood in which He stood on the mountain and spoke those powerful words to the Eleven.

In this flesh and blood He speaks to us today also in the midst of our fears and failures, our worries and our doubts, and says, “Behold, see, all authority has been given to Me, and I am with you always; and so do not fear, go in peace, and in Me you will bear abundant fruit.” Amen.